Interstitial lung diseases (ILDs) are debilitating disorders that cause patients to slowly lose their lung function, resulting in shortness of breath, limited capacity for movement, and subsequent death. Over 4,000 British Columbians currently suffer from some form of ILD, yet not all of them receive proper therapy, partly due to difficulties in identifying the precise ILD subtype.
A correct diagnosis is crucial to administering proper therapy, yet nearly half of ILD patients report a delay in diagnosis of more than one year, which delays optimal disease management and thus increases risk of death. Moreover, drug treatment for IPF costs ~$40k/year, whereas other ILD subtypes generally respond well to alternative medications that are ~90% cheaper. It is therefore critical that patients with ILD are diagnosed early and accurately to prompt initiation of effective therapy.
To address the need for better ILD diagnosis, the goal of this project is to identify diagnostic cellular markers that can accurately distinguish between subtypes of ILD. This will be done by profiling gene expression patterns within individual white blood cells. There is considerable evidence that specific white blood cell populations are important drivers of ILD progression, which may explain prior unsuccessful attempts at identifying ILD subtype-specific markers in whole tissue specimens (i.e. lung, blood) rather than individual cells. Improving diagnosis will result in significant social and economic benefits and improve health outcomes for the thousands of patients suffering from ILDs.